Holidaymakers have been advised against all travel on cruise ships by the Foreign Office (FCO) amid fears that they are unlikely to return to the seas before 2021.
The FCO updated its guidance on cruises as part of a review of its ban on non-essential travel during the pandemic, saying it now advised against such holidays “at this time.” This prevents travellers getting travel insurance.
FCO sources said it was treating cruise ships as any other destination based on medical advice from Public Health England (PHE) but pledged to continue to work with the Department for Transport’s (DfT) and industry to resume cruises.
The move is a blow to an industry which was an early focus of the pandemic crisis, with outbreaks on ships quarantined offshore and a major FCO operation to repatriate 19,000 British travellers trapped on cruise liners in more than 20 locations.
At least 70 cruise ships reported positive cases on board, including high-profile incidences in Japan and the US, and more than 90 passengers and staff died.
The FCO originally advised in March against passengers over 70 or with underlying health conditions taking cruises but it said this had been superseded by its blanket ban on all non-essential travel abroad during the pandemic. It said the updated guidance confirmed this position.
Paul Charles, chief executive of PC Consultancy, which advises the travel industry including cruise operators, said the difficulty was how to minimise the risks from transporting 3,000 people to holiday sites if there were Covid-19 cases on board or in sites they visited.
“The issues worrying Governments around the world are the movement of 3,000 people from a cruise ship into a small port or town. More work needs to be done on how to solve that. Many of the cruise lines feel 2021 is the year of their return with little chance of saving 2020,” he said.
Two of the world’s biggest operators, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian Cruise Line, have assembled a panel of experts to devise health protocols to allow sailings to resume with minimum risk of coronavirus spreading on board. This is expected to report next month.
The EU has recommended that cruises be cut to between three and seven days, and ships make fewer port visits, avoid offering buffets and apply social distancing of 1.5 metres.
They also said those over 65 years old, who make up about 30 per cent of cruise passengers, should be subject to more stringent health checks before boarding and recommended activities be organised by age to prevent the spread of infection between groups.
It emerged yesterday that “winter sun” destinations such as the Maldives, Cape Verde and Cuba could be on the next batch of destinations where FCO travel restrictions are eased.
Others included Tanzania, Georgia, Belarus, Myanmar, Belarus, Armenia, Ukraine, Ivory Coast, Myanmar, Azerbaijan, Sudan, Kazakhstan, Moldova and Pitcairn.
Meanwhile, the head of the world’s tourism and trade body says today that face masks should be mandatory for all forms of travel and in any indoor spaces from hotels and restaurants to cruise ships and bars.
Gloria Guevara, chief executive of the World Travel and Tourism Council (WTTC), which advises the G20, said the wearing of face masks should be the “new norm” on all forms of transport and “interior venues.”